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Lessons of JoePa, in Case the Next Witch We Hunt Doesn’t Drop Dead

Posted on Jan 25, 2012
AP / Gene J. Puskar

Candles on the steps of Old Main on the Penn State University campus spell out “Joe” in remembrance of former football coach Joe Paterno during a memorial service.

By Mark Heisler

Joe Paterno, the postscript ...

The witch hunt that ended his career meant something, after all, as an object lesson in case the next witch we hunt doesn’t drop dead two months later.

Even if the press, so recently laden with scorn, is now lugubrious in its romanticism—ESPN’s Todd Blackledge, a former Paterno quarterback, noted, “As much as anything, he died of a broken heart”—no one knows if the ordeal hastened JoePa’s death.
And, one way or another, there is no shortage of victims in this story.

Nevertheless, it was wrong to hound Paterno into retirement for his tangential involvement in someone else’s scandal, and it’s wrong that he’ll now he remembered additionally for being martyred by a marauding press.

He didn’t have to die to make it wrong to dispense with him before he ever got to say what he knew, when he knew it and how he felt about it, which would at least have provided some basis for accepting it as heartfelt or dismissing it as self-serving BS, as a minimum requirement of fairness.


Square, Site wide
It was wrong from the moment the press and its new social-media-engaged audience began piling on, prompting Penn State trustees to fire Paterno on the spot, in the hope of saving what remained of their fundraising program.

I wrote a Truthdig column about the media crusade (“JoePa Gets Due Process of Us”), in which I noted that his actions after being told by his assistant, Mike McQueary, that Jerry Sandusky had sexually abused a teenage boy were “indefensible.”

It was still close enough to a defense of Paterno to inspire a firestorm in the comments published below my piece.

The column was actually about the working of the modern press, as raw emotion streamed up, as well as being handed down, from audience to blogger to mainstream pundit, in a justice-demanding feeding frenzy.

Rather than stay detached and offer critical perspective, as the press did in its post-tabloid, idealistic, we-got-it-right-for-Watergate phase, the modern incarnation was like a posse galloping after the outlaws … and not beyond stringing them up on the spot.

Child abuse being so heinous a crime, and so legitimate a cue for outrage, it was a dramatic illustration of the interactivity that media outlets value so highly in today’s Neo-Tabloid Age.

If the press is accused of being an elite that tells the people what it wants to, news organizations have lived and died according to their ability to discern what the public wanted.

Now the public—or its dark side, with anonymous input make it the equivalent of road rage—is wired into the process.

As I noted in December:

Tweeted Sirius’ Opie and Anthony, insulted at having their integrity questioned:

“To the CUNTS that think this is a bit, FUCK OFF! Joe Paterno failed as a human being. Go defend football over a kids innocence somewhere else.”

[...] I Googled “Fuck Joe Paterno” and “Fuck Paterno” and got 498 hits.

With “Paterno sucks,” Google came back with 2,890 (in 0.21 seconds).

My piece occasioned comments on the Truthdig site like:

“I continue to be amazed—nay, gobsmacked—by the intricacy of the knots into which child-rape apologists will tie themselves, all in service of defending the God of Football.”

Not that it gobsmacked me. I didn’t know about it until site founder Bob Scheer told me. Whatever I’m apologizing for, I’m not dumb enough to read comments under my stories.

A week before his death, Paterno, weakened by chemotherapy for his lung cancer, described his meeting with McQueary to The Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins.

With the regrets and the holes in Paterno’s story, and the hesitancy he described on McQueary’s part, it was just what you would have expected.

“He [McQueary] was very upset and I said why, and he was very reluctant to get into it,” Paterno said. “He said it, well, [it] looked like inappropriate, or fondling, I’m not quite sure exactly how he put it.

“I said, ‘You did what you had to do. It’s my job now to figure out what we want to do.’

“So I sat around. It was a Saturday. Waited till Sunday because I wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing. And then I called my superiors and I said: ‘Hey, we got a problem, I think. Would you guys look into it?’

“ … I had never had to deal with something like that. And I didn’t feel adequate.”

So, it was indefensible and/or human, after all, assuming how credible you think Paterno is.

As for Paterno’s broken heart. …

With all due respect to Blackledge, who knew him, if Paterno could turn down NFL millions to stay in the house he bought for $9,000, he may have been past caring what “they” thought, from the alumni who wanted his revered backside out of there until this almost-a-storybook season to professional haters like Opie and Anthony.

As Paterno’s wife, Sue, told Jenkins, taking a favorite family portrait, parents, children and grandchildren, off the wall:

“This is who we are. And no one can take us from us.”

If that leaves us, the members of the new press-audience continuum, feeling like Romans who went thumbs down, then thought better of it ... oh, we’re too late for JoePa?

Unfortunately, most people will insist they were the ones insisting this was a witch hunt all along, and believe it.

If you’re the exception, remember it the next time the press trusses, er, hands someone up to us, the jury.

We’re going to need a lot more exceptions, in the press and outside it, since it and its audience are becoming the same thing.

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By John Poole, January 27, 2012 at 3:32 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The terms faggot and faggoty are important terms to use on occasion. there is a
huge difference between homosexual and faggot. Faggot implies a monstrous
homosexual who harms other humans in a gleeful manner. George Clooney is a
good homosexual!  John Poole.  Get over the horror of seeing faggot in print!

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By John Poole, January 27, 2012 at 11:26 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Kitschwheeler:  It’s being spun now that Joe was “old school” and boy rape
doesn’t factor in the lives of his earlier/naive and more trusting generation.
Actually that isn’t such a bad cover since Joe evidently was a Catholic and even
after that monstrous perverse religious business cult has been proven to be
staffed by faggoty molesters he still probably was a loyal Catholic. Remember the
scene in MYSTIC RIVER where the mother just draws the blinds when her raped
young son is brought back home. Close the blinds!  Pretend it never happened.
The church is one fucked up entity on this orb today.

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By Rosemary Molloy, January 27, 2012 at 6:04 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Yes, mrfreeze, yes.

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By Kitschwheeler, January 26, 2012 at 9:15 pm Link to this comment

No adult who is in charge of any organization should ever be more concerned
about the reputation of another adult than for the safety of children. Joe
Paterno obviously had little or no concern for any children who may have been
molested at the hands of Sandusky. If he was, he would have tried to get to the
bottom of the situation. To figure out WHY McQueary was so uncomfortable
when he came to his office. And to figure out WHY McQueary would have
claimed to witness Sandusky fondling a child. That’s disgusting behavior for a
grown adult man, don’t you think? So all he did was report it to administration
and dust off his hands?
The reason so many of us are horrified at his behavior is because children need
adults to act like adults and stand up for them. Paterno didn’t do that. A lot of
us would have more respect for Joe Paterno if he had even the shred of an
appearance of trying to learn more about the situation and ultimately do what
was right. Bad press aside, it simply doesn’t appear that he tried to do much of
anything…other than the bare minimum required.
Yes, it’s too bad he died. Of cancer, not a broken heart. It’s also too bad he
didn’t seem more concerned for the possible victims of a very likely molester.
Perhaps he died of guilt.

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By Diana, January 26, 2012 at 8:36 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This “Holier than Thou” attitude?  Oh please!  Where
else would this 85 year old be working?  Would there be
a job for him in the “real world”?  He was going to do
whatever it takes to stay where he was and now he’s
being worshiped as a deity (almost)just because he’s
dead. Sports! Money! Who gives a damn about these
perverts who molest children? Reminds me of the
Catholic Church and the way they have handled the abuse
and cover up for ages.

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Blackspeare's avatar

By Blackspeare, January 26, 2012 at 6:08 pm Link to this comment

This whole “holier than thou” attitude is getting to me.  JoePa did nothing wrong
and neither did McQueary.  We all have a reporting order and that is exactly what
they both did——you report your finding to your superiors and they take action or
inaction as the case may be.  You never report anything to the authorities without
first reporting to your superior, unless you are the direct victim of a crime.  You
never blindside your own family or place of business.  The blame falls directly on
the two administrators who failed to inform the authorities.  Though JoePa was a
God on campus, there was an administrative hierarchy and he followed that chain
of command.  This whole business is just a media blitz, which in essence took
down Paterno.

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By J.T. Constable, January 26, 2012 at 5:43 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The entire “upstanding moral character/turned boys into men” reputation of
Paterno was a charade from the start. It was a way for an unheralded former
agricultural school of sorts to make money. Paterno as his refusal to ever retire
showed was a venal, selfish, two-bit fraud. Over the years, he made light of rape,
and laughed off the other serious offenses of Penn State players. Even his policy of
not printing the players names on the back of their uniforms was just another way
to hog all the glory. The fact that he turned out to be a haughty ennabler for a
monstrous child molestor was deadingly predictable. It’s really too bad he never
had to face the music of his moral cowardice and all the money he made over the
years should now rightly go to all those poor abused boys.

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By NoName, January 26, 2012 at 1:33 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

An 85-year-old man dies of a heart attack, and we’re supposed to feel responsible?  When the next wave of Catholic Church child rape accusations arise, are we supposed to say nothing lest we disturb fragile Ratzinger?

What’s weird is that Robert Scheer is breathlessly keeping you updated on the comments here.  Does any other site have Hedges columns?

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By Chris William Connelly, January 26, 2012 at 12:36 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“The witch hunt that ended his career meant something, after all, as an object lesson in case the next witch we hunt doesn’t drop dead two months later.”

Don’t you mean “abject lesson”?

Report this

By Diana, January 26, 2012 at 8:20 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I think the sports craze is outrageous on all levels!
Like the Roman Empire, we have to keep the “people”
busy looking in another direction. Going Gaga over
this stuff and celebrities is just more garbage for
the brainless commoners to focus on. Even our schools
(public schools!) will toss out a teacher or anything
else to SAVE MONEY (so-called) but don’t touch
sports. Personally just trying to watch TV for any
reason becomes so annoying with Sports Updates and
crap that passes for news, I could scream. Well I
think Chris Hedges has stated the case much better
than I. It’s amazing how people are lead around by
the nose but that’s how we end up with the fat cats who run the show.

Report this

By SJ Cipolla, January 26, 2012 at 8:02 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I don’t care what killed him, although the broken heart theory is bullshit when
you attribute it to a man with advanced cancer who wasn’t expected to finish out
the past season alive.  The thing that truly bothers me is that Paterno is not
going to be around for questioning.  With multiple investigations ongoing, and
criminal indictments in which the defendants will be recounting the
conversations in which Paterno was involved or witnessed, his absence means
that one primary source of impeachment evidence is gone forever.  Joe was
never, ever going to be indicted in Happy Valley, but there were going to many
times when the prosecutors or investigators would have been inclined to test the
statements of others who are suspected of perjury by having an informal or
sworn statement from Joe.

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By Kronoberger, January 26, 2012 at 6:58 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Penn State has always been morally retro. They
tolerated Rene Portland’s vicious lesbian bashing for almost 30 years. Joe Paterno and the rest of the
athletic program supported her even as she ruined the lives of many fine young women.

Report this

By Tom Degan, January 26, 2012 at 6:12 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I have an indirect familial connection with Joe Paterno. He was the first cousin to my Uncle Joe Gargiulo - my Aunt Audrey’s husband - although to the best of my recollection I never met the man.

It’s such a shame that a sixty-year-long, unblemished career should end so sadly.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

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By JeffersonSmith, January 25, 2012 at 9:43 pm Link to this comment

Joe Paterno was not the victim of a wich hunt and did not die of a broken heart. His death by cancer was not a result of media pressure, that is just a canard.Joe Paterno was a very wealthy man, made so by his heading a successful football program at an NCAA Division 1 university, he was a football coach and a celebrity, not an educator or a saint.

Joe Paterno knew about Sandusky for years prior to his indictment, yet did nothing but lock him out of the training center at Penn State. Silence indicates consent, Joe Paterno was silent, he said nothing publicly about the actions of Sandusky that got Sandusky’s keys taken away to the field house at Penn State, eight years before the indictment of Sandusky.

Joe Paterno knew and he did nothing, Joe Paterno knew and he said nothing, Joe Paterno knew and continued to support Sandusky in his “youth outreach” efforts, Joe Paterno knew…

Joe Paterno was richly rewarded for his job at Penn State, he was a millionaire several times over and one of the most powerful men at Penn State and in NCAA football. He was not a victim, he was a prime mover in a cover up to keep his status and memory unclouded by Sandusky, to maintain Penn State’s stature and keep his sinecure secure. If Joe Paterno is to be “Lionized” then that is truly a shameful orgy of cynicism and demonsrates clearly the worship of sport and power over people.

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By rumblingspire, January 25, 2012 at 9:33 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)


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By Stupid Git, January 25, 2012 at 8:52 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)


Thank you. That was what most bothered me about the whole thing as well. A
massive spontaneous protest in support of a football program rightly tarnished
for covering up child abuse of disgusting depravity.

Where were these activists when we went to war with an innocent nation? Where
were they when the Clinton administration decided it was “worth the price” to
starve hundreds of thousands of Iraq children through the 90’s? That’s right,
they were in their colosseum watching a neutered decendent of the ROman
bloodsports while their empire crumbled.

F*** Joe Paterno, F*** his defenders and may we wake from our savage
ignorance to look in the mirror and realize the “good guys” aren’t always us..

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By John Poole, January 25, 2012 at 6:41 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Paterno is now discussing business deals with Ken Lay.

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By kerryrose, January 25, 2012 at 6:14 pm Link to this comment

Yuck.  The guy screwed up royally in order to protect himself and his empire.

He was disgusting and his empire was ugly. It is far easier to see this when you are not blinded by the the strange religion of college football.

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By chinny, January 25, 2012 at 5:44 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

There was a “diary” (roll eyes) a few days ago over at daily gossip titled “F#*K Joe Paterno…” in which the “diarist” wrote of her own, indeed heart-wrenching, personal story of being abused as a child, which in turn served as the catalyst for her passionate damnation of Mr. Paterno. I have no reason to doubt her and agree, without hesitation, that her experience must have been horrifying.

But without even questioning her outrage at Mr. Paterno, I am left to wonder if she has the same passion about children murdered - as a matter of policy no less - as for children raped.  If I’m not mistaken, the “diarist” is also a very strong supporter of the Obama White House and I do not re-call her mustering much if any outrage for the innocent child victims of Obama’s foreign policy, blown apart by unmanned predator drones operated by nice American soldiers (straight, gay, male, female, you name it - everybody gets to kill now, yay!!!) in the comfort and safety of the home base or the Pentagon and all under the acknowledged leadership of POTUS Barack Obama.

Whether or not Mr. Sandusky’s victims get justice or if Joe Paterno deserved to die as a fallen idol, the crimes of that scandal and the names associated with it have at least been publicized and roundly condemned. 

Last time I looked, the whistle-blowers/leakers trying to STOP the policy driven, anti-septic killing of innocents in Obama’s modern wars of choice and aggression - like Bradley Manning - are being prosecuted full throttle, including de-humanizing physical abuse at the hands of his military jailors.  Indeed, Manning could potentially face the same death penalty that the diarist wishes upon her enemies. Meanwhile, our butcher soldiers of Haditha and Falujah, etc. walk free…

What is it about the sanctioned murder of children and innocent civilians by American foreign policy in undeclared “wars” we’re losing that must take a backseat to sexual abuse by sick individuals who are being prosecuted?

Why does the need to support Obama at all costs outweigh the outrage quotient for dead kids?

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By Scott, January 25, 2012 at 4:49 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“Whatever I’m apologizing for, I’m not dumb enough to read comments under my stories”

Either you’re being facetious and suggesting that really you’re just smarter than those posting comments but you will read them anyway to satisfy your own self-flagellating narcissism, or this statement is totally sincere and thus…Congratulations! You don’t understand the Internet and will wither away in obscurity.

But please cherry-pick one comment out of the lot of criticisms you received on your previous post (mine included, which deliberately pointed out your idiotic non-point concerning the Google search results). Constantly beating the drum of the devil’s advocate, regardless of circumstance, doesn’t make you edgy. It makes you obnoxious.

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By mrfreeze, January 25, 2012 at 4:01 pm Link to this comment

I’m afraid that in this world, the bigger they are, the harder (and today, the more worldwide) they fall.

The real ugly, nasty and disgusting meta-story in this whole thing is that….to this day….Penn State’s whole faculty, student body and administration have mustered more passion and anger OVER A F**KING FOOTBALL PROGRAM than for all the illegal wars raging, economies failing, slavery around the world increasing and the middle-class vanishing…......and it seems as if the only effing thing that can raise their passions is that their precious sports team and coach were caught up in a scandal…...Really????

Perhaps if we truly want people to care (and for the press to finally start doing their jobs again) we should call it a sport…..then people will start to pay attention.

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